Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Batman: The Mask of Phantasm

While bored one night I was surfing through Netflix for something to watch. I was pleasantly surprised to find Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm (1993). This entertaining animated movie was part of the Batman: The Animated Series franchise of Warner Brothers. The plot was inspired by Mike W. Barr's Batman: Year Two comic book story arc, but features an original antagonist, the Phantasm, in place of the Reaper.

The opening of Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm is a long beauty shot that travels across the rooftops of Gotham allowing us a great view of the amazing Dark Deco design created for the animated series. It’s truly a sight to behold. For your viewing pleasure I’ve posted a YouTube video of a segment of the opening. Even if you're not a comic book fan, the opening is worth seeing.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Sister Aimee

As I was watching HBO’s Perry Mason (which is very dieselpunk, BTW) I was shocked to see Sister Alice McKeegan. Her similarities with Sister Molly Finister on Showtime’s City of Angels were too much of a coincidence. I knew there had to be a historical source. I was right. Her name was Aimee Semple McPherson. But everyone called her Sister Aimee.

Maslany, McPherson and Bishe, Photo: HBO; Getty Images; Showtime

Aimee Semple McPherson was born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy in 1890 on a Canadian farm. Before she turned 18 she married an Irish missionary named Robert Semple. Semple would later die from malaria on a missionary tour in Asia.

After returning to the US, McPherson married an accountant named Harold Steward McPherson. McPherson’s drive to be an evangelist was too much for their marriage and they ultimately divorced.

McPherson established the Foursquare Church. The name was drawn from an idea of McPherson in which Jesus formed the corners as the "Only Savior," the "Great Physician," the "Baptizer with the Holy Spirit," and the "Coming Bridegroom."

In 1918, she set up a home base in Los Angeles. Later, 1923 she opened her first church, which she named the Angeles Temple, and which offered religious services in five different languages.

McPherson was an unusual evangelist in her time. First, she was a woman. Most ministers were men. Second, she was Pentecostal and would speak in tongues and perform feats of faith healing. While Pentecostals were common in many parts of the US in that era they were rare as evangelists. Sister Molly isn’t shown faith healing and talking in tongues but they do show Sister Alice in the same light.

Sister McPherson also differed from both the fictional HBO and Showtime evangelists on the issue of race. While she did integrate her church service and public charity, McPherson demonized Japanese-Americans and endorsed the KKK.

McPherson is widely acknowledged as one of the first televangelists. She knew how to use film and radio to spread her message. She also owned and operated the radio station KFSG, which began broadcasting in 1924. According to the BBC, McPherson started a trend that led to the modern conservative talk and religious broadcasts.

However the preacher is perhaps best remembered for her bizarre disappearance in May 1926 from Los Angeles and reappearance a month later in a town in Mexico. McPherson insisted that she was kidnapped. However, Los Angeles officials believed the kidnapping was a fake. They charged her for making a false claim but they later dropped the charges because the witness was unreliable.

McPherson continued to draw crowds and preach after her alleged kidnapping in spite of the ridicule from the media. In 1944 she was found dead in her hotel room from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Did We Have To Drop The Bomb?

One of the meanings of “punk” in Dieselpunk is alternative history or what historians, such as Harry Turtledove, term “counterfactual history.” Essentially this is the “what-if” scenario. What if the US had joined the League of Nations when founded and had given it some teeth? What if Hitler had died from the gas attack on his squadron during the Great War?  What if Huey Long had not been assassinated in 1935?

Today, August 15, 2020, is the 75th anniversary of the ending of the war in the Pacific, also known as VJ Day. This anniversary gives us an opportunity to ask another what if question:

What if the US hadn’t dropped the Atomic Bombs on Japan at the end of World War II?

The standard line goes like this. We had no choice but to drop the Atomic Bombs on Japan because an invasion was the only alternative to stopping the war. Any invasion, we’re told, would have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans and maybe millions of Japanese lives. Therefore, dropping the bombs was actually merciful in that fewer died than would have during an invasion.

So the story goes.

In a recent Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times titled “U.S. leaders knew we didn’t have to drop atomic bombs on Japan to win the war. We did it anyway,” Gar Alperovitz and Martin J. Sherwin argued that the standard line is wrong. They claimed that dropping the Atomic Bomb or massive invasion weren’t the only two choices. Alperovitz and Sherwin argue that there was a third-choice and that the Allies knew it and chose not to follow it.

According to Alperovitz and Sherwin, the Soviets were poised to invade Japan in 1945. They had already invaded Manchuria, which the Japanese had conquered in 1931. And the Japanese were much more frightened of a Soviet invasion and occupation than they were of an American. The US State Department knew that the Japanese would be willing to surrender to the US rather than be occupied by the Soviets.

Contrary to the standard line, seven of the eight five-star generals at the time opposed dropping the bomb. Admiral William Leahy wrote in his memoir that the Atomic Bombs were “of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.” MacArthur later wrote that if Truman had modified the terms of surrender so that the Japanese could keep their emperor then, “the Japanese would have accepted it and gladly I have no doubt.” And Eisenhower wrote, “the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”


Therefore, according to Alperovitz and Sherwin, Truman knew that to end the war all the US had to do was to take unconditional surrender off the table. As long as the Japanese were assured that they would keep the emperor, much like a European-style constitutional monarchy, then they would surrender and accept any other terms demanded by the Americans. All of this without the need for the use of the horrifying Atomic Bombs or a bloody invasion.

Dieselpunk literature has long questioned the necessity of the Atomic Bombs in the war. I highly recommend the Dieselpunk short story The Lucky Strike by Kim Stanley Robinson published in The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century, edited by Harry Turtledove and Martin H. Greenberg.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

HBO Lovecraft Country

We talk a lot about H.P. Lovecraft in Dieselpunk. It seems like every time we have an opportunity, we’re showering him with praise. But let’s be clear about something.

H.P. Lovecraft was racist, anti-Semitic, and a vocal supporter of white supremacy.

Try reading his stories, and it’ll become readily apparent. Some of his stories are difficult to read because the racism is so explicit. He wrote an entire poem in 1912 about how the gods created blacks in a state of being in-between humans and beasts. Once he proclaimed, “the Negro is fundament, ally the biological inferior of all White and even Mongolian races.” And his letters include references to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and praise for Hitler.

We can’t just write this serious character flaw off as Lovecraft being a “product of his times” as we’re told to do so often. While I find the excuse questionable in the first place, Lovecraft’s views were so extreme that, according to Paul Guran, editor of The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, he was worse than many of his era. 

How should we handle Lovecraft in light of this? Should we throw his work out and make him persona non grata? Thankfully, such extreme steps aren’t necessary. There are other solutions. HBO has one answer. It’s called Lovecraft Country.

Lovecraft Country is a series developed by Misha Green based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Matt Ruff. The cast of Lovecraft Country includes Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Jonathan Majors, Aunjanue Ellis, and Abbey Lee. One, of its executive producers, is J. J. Abrams, who’s famous for screwing up movies such as Star Trek and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

According to Deadline Hollywood, the series follows "Atticus Black as he joins up with his friend Letitia and his Uncle George to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father. This begins a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and the terrifying monsters that could be ripped from a Lovecraft paperback."

It is set to premiere on August 16, 2020, on HBO.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Dieselpunk Pandemic Fashion

I came across this Facebook meme earlier today. While it originally posted to Facebook back in 2017, it’s just as applicable today in 2020 with the pandemic.

Photo: Pyszczek Photography
Headpiece: Fascynacje Zuzanny
PE: Klaudia Szydlo

This meme inspired me to post a few images of dieselpunk fashion with masks. I hope you enjoy them. 

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Recently the NFL announced that they would play the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the start of each game during Week 1 along with the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Many may not know that there is a strong Diesel Era connection with the song.

First, here's some background for those not familiar with the song. "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was originally a poem written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900. Later, in 1905, J. Rosamond Johnson, the brother of James Weldon Johnson, set it to music. The poem and song  “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” are written as a prayer of thanksgiving for freedom. “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” is found in numerous Christian hymnals across the US.

There are two Diesel Era connections to the song. The term “Black National Anthem” comes from when the NAACP dubbed it the “Negro National Anthem" in 1919. Later, in 1939, the African-American sculptor Augusta Savage received a commission from the New York World's Fair. She created a 16-foot plaster sculpture called “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which some called “The Harp.”  Unfortunately, because Savage lacked the funds to have it cast in bronze or to move it, the sculpture was destroyed when the fair closed.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Postcards From The Past

As America of the 1930s came out of the dark ages of Prohibition, cocktails could finally be enjoyed legally again. With the return to legality, mixologists had greater access to quality spirits. The result was a boom in new and better cocktails for people to enjoy. With this renaissance in drinks came the growth of cocktail culture around the nation. 

The book Cocktails Across America by Diane Lapis and Anne Peck-Davis looks at the cocktail culture of the 1930s - 1950s. Not into cocktails? Don’t worry. Cocktails Across America is bursting full of images of postcards from that era on nearly every page. Each image of a postcard is of high quality and in full color. In the back of the book, there’s something extra. There are reproductions of several color postcards just as they were with both sides.

Cocktails Across America is a fun book that everyone can enjoy, even for the teetotalers. I highly recommend it.